Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

First Sentence:  It is a wood-paneled room of sumptuous size—the abbots of Perton have always done themselves well.
In 1141, England was engulfed in civil war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda over who would wear the crown. It is 1180 and a dying abbot has one last important task to accomplish.  He summons a young scribe in order to document a much more personal story set during that backdrop and occurring during a long, brutal siege winter.
While readers were heartbroken by the death of Ariana Franklin and the incredible cliffhanger left in her last book in the “Mistress of the Art of Death” series, this does not resolve that series. However, prior and new readers, you are in for such a treat.  This book was begun by Ms. Franklin (aka Diana Norman) prior to her death, and has been completed by her daughter, Samantha Norman.  While that is wonderful in itself, what is truly remarkable is that the fusion is absolutely seamless. 
There is no awkward transition between the two authors; it is all one voice.  No, the language is not of the period.  To that, there was the explanation given by Ms. Franklin at the end of “Grave Goods,” …”…in twelfth-century England the common people spoke a form of English even less comprehensive than Chaucer’s.  In the fourteenth; the nobility spoke Normal French, and the clergy spoke Latin.  Since people then sounded contemporary to one another, and since I hate the use of what I call “gadzooks” in historical novels to denote a past age, I insist on making those people sound modern to the reader.”  One can’t argue with that.
For us readers, the story begins with the history given, the stage set, the players assembled and the curtain drawn on what, from the very start, we know will be a wonderful tale.  The narrative is fascinating and, periodically through the story, moves the tale forward while providing historical context. The story provides wonderful details of castle life, and what it takes to run and defend a castle during this period.
What a wonderful assembly of characters.  Each leaps off the page into full life and touches our emotions.  Gwilherm de Vannes, a mercenary soldier, and his conversations with God are a true delight…”And what now, Lord?  Eh?  How can I protect her from herself?”  “That’s a tricky one, Gwil.  That’s the question.  Even I can’t help you there I’m afraid.”  Young Pen, whom he rescues, is a survivor who learns to cope with events in her own way.  Maud, forced into marriage and now finds herself having to defend her castle with the help of Sir Rollo, commander of her troops and protect her son, William.  There is a mystery to the story, and a villain which is as evil as a villain can be.  This is the time of the Plantagenets, and the history is important, but the story is very much a human story. 
One really doesn’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling what is an absolutely wonderful read. It is a story one would love to see brought to the screen, but only if it included every single page filmed exactly as it is on the page.
The Siege Winter” is exciting, stirring, filled of tension and can bring one to tears but has a conclusion which makes one smile and touches the heart.  Do you know how hard it is to write review notes when one is crying?   It is a story which stays with you long after the last page.  At the bottom of my review notes, I wrote Ex+++++++.  Were it possible to rate a book 10 out of 5 stars, this would be it.  I loved every page; every word.  It doesn’t get better than that.  However, the best news is that this may only be the first in a series.

THE SIEGE WINTER (Hist Novel – Gwil / Pendra – England – 1100s) – EX
Franklin, Ariana and Samantha Norman – 1st book
Harper Collins – February 2015 

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